City looking into whether TTC overcharged Festival of South Asia

What began nine years ago as the Taste of Little India is today back on the streetcar tracks after nearly being derailed by TTC street-closure fees, Subbu Chintaluri says.

With the help of city council, street closure charges put forth by the TTC for re-routing buses in place of streetcars during the popular Festival of South Asia have been slashed. Now it’s up for investigation whether the TTC has been overcharging for those street closures in years past.

“It had gotten to the point where many of us began to question whether it was worth it to continue with the festival,” said Chintaluri, the manager of the Gerrard India Bazaar BIA, which runs the festival.

Chintaluri said the Gerrard India Bazaar paid about $27,000 in 2011 and almost $30,000 in 2010 to the TTC as compensation for closing Gerrard Street East from Coxwell Avenue to Greenwood Avenue.

It doesn’t do the TTC or the City of Toronto any good if prices are so high that they are scaring away people from creating events for the city.

—Brad Ross

The tab for this year’s festival — set for July 7 and 8 — is nearly half that of last year’s, coming in at $14,543 thanks to a change in the TTC’s fee structure for street closures.

Under the new structure, the TTC is charging the Gerrard India Bazaar $80 per hour per bus during the street closure, plus a $621.50 one-time fee for the creation of signs advising of the changes in transit during the festival.

The old system saw the TTC charge charter rates of $767 for the first two hours of each bus and then $261 for each additional bus hour.

“It doesn’t do the TTC or the City of Toronto any good if prices are so high that they are scaring away people from creating events for the city,” TTC spokesperson Brad Ross said.

Despite the price drop this year, councillors and Gerrard India Bazaar board members Mary-Margaret McMahon and Paula Fletcher have asked for an investigation into previous years’ fees.

“The organizers of the Festival of South Asia asked me and Coun. Fletcher to look into the fees from last year and we obliged,” McMahon said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure our constituents are taken care of.”

If the city’s investigation finds that the TTC has been overcharging for street closures, McMahon said she hopes a refund will eventually be worked out for the Festival of South Asia.

The TTC’s new pricing structure is more in tune with the actual costs of closing a street, Ross said, but it’s unlikely that the investigation will find any wrongdoing on the part of the TTC.

“Whether we get money back, I don’t really know, but Coun. Fletcher and Coun. McMahon have done so much to help already,” Chintaluri said. “We are so happy.”